The Naked Truth

In our backyard sits a hot tub. My partner Amy and I like to soak in it. And we like it best when we are naked. My daughter Molly often joins us. When we are alone, she likes to be naked too. But when her friends are visiting, we all wear bathing suits. You can never be sure what people will think about a family that sits around naked together.

I've never seen my parents naked. We didn't do that in Minnesota in the 1960's. Being naked was something people did only when bathing by themselves or while having sex. This has had two negative effects on me.

Firstly, I never learned what real people look like when they are naked. The only naked people I saw were the female models in the Playboy magazines my friend Mike dug out of his father's wastebasket. We would secretly huddle together in the garage studying the subject no adult dared teach us, "sex". These magazines were our only guide.

Mike and I drew some very wrong conclusions from our research. We thought women had to look a certain way to be considered beautiful. And we were unprepared for the bodies of lovers we would eventually be exposed to. We learned nothing about the beauty of a round belly or the beauty of the wrinkles that highlight a woman's features only as she ages.

And we learned nothing of men. They were absent from those magazines. We assumed that men were simply to ugly to warrant photographing. If we were to experience beauty, it seemingly had to be through admiring a woman. Our own bodies were an embarrassment, void of any attractiveness.

Secondly, my lack of opportunity to see naked bodies in any other context left me equating nudity with sex. This strong association has taken me some time to break. I used to think about sex most of the time that a naked body was in my presence. But over the years of being around friends who are comfortable being naked, I gradually formed a clear distinction. Nudity is about our bodies without clothes on. Sex is about touching genitals.

While the difference is clear in my own mind, I am aware that many people in our society still have nudity and sex tightly associated. Europeans, in general, seem more comfortable with nudity. In America, however, writing about nudity in a parenting magazine is likely to draw some impassioned letters to the editor. We feel the need to protect children from exposure to anything sexual, and that means nudity is definitely taboo.

The danger of hurting children through sexual abuse is important to acknowledge. Far too many children have been traumatized by adults (especially men) using them for sexual gratification. The experience can be so confusing, shaming, and painful that it's effects can cripple the sex lives of it's survivors. Adults who experience sexual attraction to children, therefore, must be very careful to avoid situations that might generate urges that are difficult to control. This is a good reason to avoid nude contact with children.

It should also be acknowledged, however, that all over town mothers and fathers are taking showers and baths with their sons and daughters. They laugh and splash and play. Meanwhile, the children are also learning that their bodies are nothing to be embarrassed about. They are learning to be comfortable with themselves. And their comfort with nudity will likely help them be more comfortable with sex when they become adults.

I fear that others will misinterpret our family's practice of being naked together. I imagine other parents may feel the same fear. The hammer of sexual shame can pound heavily. But when we model pride in our bodies, confidence in our boundaries, and open communication, we protect our children better than we do with silence and secrecy about perfectly normal and natural family nudity.

© 2009, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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